If there is to be no distinction between Jew and Gentile, this means more than the emancipation of Christians from Jewish ritual laws. There can be no prejudice exercised against Jews, no persecution on account of religion or race. If we see any of this we know that the signs of the Messianic times are not being realised, and the Gospel is not being lived. The Nazi holocaust and the silence of Christian nations in the face of it proclaimed to the Jews that Messianic times are not yet. Because the Jewish community continues to be faithful, God is faithful to them.
Because the case of Judaism is unique, theologians have had to ask what about other religions? What should be the Christian reaction? From the beginning it was always seen as apostasy for Christians to take part in worship of pagan gods, to offer incense before idols, even before the statue of the Emperor. No distinction was made between the use of incense in a ceremony that symbolised civil obedience and loyalty, and the use of incense in what is strictly worship. On account of such a lack, many Christians died.
Anthropology came to our aid by distinguishing between what is actually religious ritual, and what is merely a civic ritual. In modern times this distinction was made in China and Japan so that Christians could take part in honouring ancestors.
It is interesting to see that Christians did not see these things as so terrible when done by pagans, as when done by those enlightened by Christ. Saint Justin Martyr (died 165 AD) saw pagan philosophies and religions as ways that were leading people forward and would eventually converge on Christ, bringing everyone to worship the Father. This understanding faded in time due to a general distrust of foreign people and cultures – which led to Western Crusaders even killing Eastern Christians! With such a background we can see how the view of non-Christian religion as inherently evil arose.
Door of Mercy from Doug in San Antonio
When the first Christians claimed a new covenant, they were aware of how the word new had been interpreted in the prophetic writings. Later generations spoke of old and new covenants – with the presumption the old was past its sell-by date. This is mistaken, the facts of history contradict it. The Jews have been faithful to Covenant in large numbers, even to the point of martyrdom; and Scripture tells us that God does not desert those who are faithful.
Some believe the issue is simple. If the Jews had really been faithful they would have recognised Jesus as Messiah, and have been part of the new covenant. But since they do not recognise Jesus as Messiah, we can assume they are unfaithful to the covenant. For this reason history left them behind as forever lost.
Such a view leaves all kinds of questions unaddressed. Even if it was perfectly clear that Jesus is the Messiah, we must remember that the Jews of the dispersion had never had the gospel preached to them. For example, exactly when did the covenant go out of date? Was it at Pentecost or at the death of the last Apostle? Also, does the Jewish participation in the covenant not remain in date until the end of time?
The only contact many Jews through the centuries had with Christians and the Gospel was that of persecution and victimisation in various forms of anti-Semitism. And many were told to renounce Judaism in favour of Christianity – if you are persecuted on account of your Christian faith and told to recant, would you see this as an act of God? We must accept the possibility that Jews cannot accept Jesus as the expected Messiah because he is not yet Messiah. We who are the presence of Jesus have not yet produced the promised signs of the Messianic presence. We know what these signs are – the Prophets are full of them, and the Gospels have Jesus quoting them.
The signs of Messianic times are: peace among nations and all people; perfect fraternity; justice for the poor and the powerless; no more violence and enmity; and all coming together to praise the one God in their own ways in peace, without hindrance. When Paul writes of these signs he says there is no discrimination in Christ between Jew and Gentile, between cultured Greeks and primitive Barbarians, between men who had all kinds of rights and women who had none. Today we might add: no discrimination between white or black, gay or straight, rich nations and poor – no annexation of the poor by the powerful.
The Christian has to ask how to evaluate other religions. We are all engaged in the work of transforming the world alongside people who are striving for the same goal and contributing equally as much for its realisation. Yet many belong to another religion or faith community.
The question: do these people participate in the work and fruits of salvation in spite of their own religious commitment or because of it? Christianity has answered this variously through the ages, but with answers heavily influenced by cultural experiences and national belongings. It is not easy to disentangle Christian tradition from social and cultural theories.
Before reflecting on these, it must be remembered that the Christian understanding of Judaism must be discussed separately; the relationship between Judaism and Christianity is unique, and in fairly recent times the French Biblical scholar Paul Démann has undertaken this in various articles to do with the relationship between Judaism in Christianity. He makes many suggestions, but many questions remain unsolved and a full theology of Christian understanding of Judaism has yet to appear.
It is abundantly clear that there is salvation in Judaism and the coming of Jesus in history did not take this salvation away. Scripture asserts that God made an everlasting covenant with Israel – you shall be my people and I will be your God; and through them all nations on the earth will be blessed. God kept promising a new covenant – not that the old one would pass away to be replaced by another, rather would the old one become new again as each generation made it its own; and written, not on stone, but on hearts of flesh.
All these promises were verified again and again in Judaism. Although Christians have not always been aware of it, Jews have continued to live passionately in fidelity to the covenant. Under tough conditions – exile, dispersion, persecution and holocaust – they continued to make the covenant ever fresh and new in succeeding generations.
We know that Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders agreed that there were two great commandments, to Love God and to love your neighbour.
Jesus told a story to answer the question, Who is my neighbour? (Luke 10: 35ff) but he was, at root, giving the same answer as the Book of Deuteronomy, according to this article in Bible History Today by Richard Elliott Friedman: follow the link Love your neighbour .
Thoroughly worth reading!
Jeff Halper at St Paul’s Church, 7:30pm Monday 21st May
Richard Llewellin, former Bishop of Dover, writes:
‘A very remarkable Israeli Jew, called Jeff Halper, is coming to speak in Canterbury during a visit to the UK.
Having watched the demolition of a Palestinian home for what he considered no good reason, he started the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions. This organisation has rebuilt countless numbers of Palestinian homes demolished by the Israeli authorities (some of which have been then demolished for a second, or even a third, time!).
Jeff Halper is larger-than-life, an excellent speaker, and has very good things to say about the future of Israel and Palestine. He is speaking at St Paul’s Church, Canterbury, on Monday, 21 May at 7:30 PM, and you will not be disappointed at his talk if you can manage to come and listen to him.’
Laurie Lee once wrote of craftsmanship that handmade objects keep us human; the Liturgy enshrines a similar thought when, following an ancient Jewish prayer, it describes the bread and wine as ‘work of human hands’. ‘We are a starved society,’ says Lee, ‘living in the midst of plenty. Our possessions are many, our serenities few.’
Lee would have recognised that feeling of serenity about the Church at Aberdaron, a lightening of the shoulders on crossing the threshold. Put that down to imagination if you will, but I was happy to accept the gift.
As in most churches there were beautiful handmade objects around: the very building itself, the doors, the clear glass windows, banners, icons; and much more. Take a pilgrimage to the edge of Wales to see for yourself.
I was glad to find in the church shop this jug, decorated with fish, made by a local potter, at a far from expensive price. Giving it to my mother, I know it will not become a possession so much as something to be shared – something that will let her share the pilgrimage, for she loves Wales and RS Thomas; her treasure for a while that may be given to a grandchild who comes and admires it.
Janet found there these little fish which now swim beneath our bathroom mirror. ‘Fishers of men’? Bait for memory, reflection, and prayer.
He is risen!
Little by little, slowly and gradually, the process of dis-covery [uncovering] is worked out to the subversion of the persecutors when the innocence of the victim becomes more and more evident: Joseph, Job, and Songs of Suffering Servant in Isaiah – when God is distinguished from the violence of the gods, and clearly on the side of the victim.
This is the genius of Judaism, having nothing equivalent elsewhere. This is what we call Revelation, God’s self-revelation by means of the innocent victim. We never reach the full revelation of this in the Old Testament, nor a full revelation of the innocence of the victim, nor a separation of God from involvement in the sacred self-deceiving violence. Such fullness occurs only in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
If we diminish the significance of Jesus’ death are we not undermining the very essence of the Resurrection? If we honour, as did Jesus, the primary role of the Kingdom, life radically lived to the full, then resurrection is not so much about the vindication of his death as about the affirmation of life fully lived. Resurrection belongs to life rather than death, an affirmation and celebration of what fully alive means.
Following Jesus has become synonymous with belonging to a denomination, and inevitably came to see Jesus as a ruling Lord – with scant reference to the freedom and empowerment of the powerless which is his hallmark. By the time of Emperor Constantine the Kingdom of God was clothed in the imperial system of Rome. Whereas the freedom Jesus brought would happen not by intervention from above but by empowerment from the ground up. The one and only time Jesus approved of them calling him king was when he chose to ride on a donkey – he embraced kingship but turned it on its head.
NW Tower, Chichester Cathedral.
The spirit of discord and hatred that is evident today needs God’s grace to overcome it. With God’s grace we can be instruments of his mercy and peace at a personal level. A simple ‘Good Morning’, in whatever language, is a word of peace. A smile, a compliment, a helping hand, a joke.
And perhaps we should travel to broaden the mind and heart. If we cannot leave home we can travel through the printed word or the television screen. And Christian, Jew or Muslim can pray these words of Saint Richard of Chichester:
May I see you more clearly,
Love you more dearly,
And follow you more nearly,
Day by Day.
It’s the old plainchant antiphon that becomes an earworm: ‘Ubi Caritas et Amor, Deus ibi est’ – Where Charity and Love prevail, there God is ever found’ – sung on Maundy Thursday when the priest washes peoples’ feet. I wonder what version of the hymn reached William Blake for him to write this meditation upon it: The Divine Image. Which includes ‘heathen, Turk or Jew’, as we can see.
To Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
All pray in their distress;
And to these virtues of delight
Return their thankfulness.
For Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is God, our father dear,
And Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is Man, his child and care.
For Mercy has a human heart,
Pity a human face,
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress.
Then every man, of every clime,
That prays in his distress,
Prays to the human form divine,
Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace.
And all must love the human form,
In heathen, Turk, or Jew;
Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell
There God is dwelling too.
St Stephen the Deacon, appointed to deliver Christian Mercy, carries a basket of bread. Church of St Stephen, Hackington, Canterbury.
All the major religions – enjoying many differences – come together in accepting the Golden Rule: do not do to another what you would not want done to you. Expressed positively – do everything to others that we would relish being done to us [find the negative formulation in the Old Testament and the positive in the New]. Augustine maintains that God wrote this rule on human hearts – it is the embodiment of the Natural Law.
However, in everyday expression religions are not only ambivalent, they are also contradictory; yet do possess things in common. According to the basic tenets of religions the connection of religion with violence represents a misunderstanding of real religion. Kant calls the Golden Rule trivial because it does not specify obligation. George Bernard Shaw observed: do not treat others as you would want them to treat you. Their taste may not be the same!
How does Jesus adopt the Golden Rule? See the Sermon on the Mount and its essential link with the love commandment – including love of enemies. Christian ethics links with a religious tradition that is open and common to all religions – yet cannot be reduced to a universal humanism, as if it were an acquired value. The fact is that compassion and mercy are inbuilt universal human values. Where compassion and mutual forgiveness are lost in favour of egoism and apathy towards fellow human beings gives rise to personal relations are confined to economic exchange. Whereas Christian mercy has shaped Western culture in a decisive way.
It is a common opinion that God in the Old Testament is a vengeful and angry God, while the God of the New Testament is gracious and merciful. There are Old Testament texts that support this – which speak of killing and expulsion of paganism, including some imprecations in the Psalms. However, this does not do justice to the gradual process by which the Old Testament view of God is transformed – ultimately both testaments witness to the same God.
In the Old Testament God’s mercy serves justice – mercy is God’s justice. In Scripture, the heart is not simply a human organ; it describes the core of the person, the seat of feelings as well as power and judgement.
Compassion is not regarded as weakness or as unworthy of a true hero. We are encouraged to show feelings and sadness, joy and grief – nor be ashamed of tears. Scripture speaks of God’s heart – God chooses according to his heart; his heart is said to be deeply troubled by the impact of sin on sinners. God leads with an upright heart. Hosea speaks of God’s heart recoiling, and God’s compassion grows warm and tender.